Homeowners Determined to Make Scammers Pay

Homeowners Determined to Make Scammers Pay

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 LOS ANGELES -- Juana Castillo Quintanila paid $3,500 to a real estate broker who promised to help her strike a deal with her bank to lower her monthly payments. The Latina, who faces imminent eviction, says he didn’t deliver. He refused to return her money, so last Thursday she went to his office with about a dozen other angry homeowners to demand a refund.

“Christopher Lim, shame on you,” the homeowners yelled, as they poured onto the 27th floor of a high-rise in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles, where the agent rents an office.

Hearing their shouts, Lim, dressed in a tidy gray suit, emerged from the conference room. Upon seeing video cameras, he shielded his face with a stack of papers, and turned and bolted down a corridor of identical office doors.

The homeowners continued to shout, “refund now,” as they chased after him. They lost sight of him, and believed that Lim hid in his office, before slipping out through the emergency exit when the hallway was clear.

“He’s not done a thing to this day,” Quintanila said through a translator, adding she’s disappointed he “got away.” The Latina says she hired Lim after hearing an ad for his company, Neighborhood Credit Solutions, on Spanish-language radio. In the recession, work has slowed for her husband, a gardener, and the family’s income shrunk. Quintanila says Lim promised to “fight” for her to stave off foreclosure, but that only involved submitting one loan modification application, which resulted in slightly lower payments that didn’t improve her situation.

But, Lim maintains that Quintanila is just dissatisfied with the terms of the bank’s modification offer, which is out of his control.

“I’m not a bad person,” he said during a phone interview. There’s so much heat on my business. If they set this [confrontation] up on anybody, they could have looked like a bad person.”

The homeowners say Lim broke a California law that bans real estate agents and attorneys from collecting up front fees in negotiating a loan modification. Lim denies doing that, and says he was contracted to perform “documentation preparation” to help Quintanila make her case to her bank. The bank could have offered a number of options, including modification, he said.

Lim told New America Media that he will offer Quintanila a refund. “I guess I just want to be a bigger person. Sometimes you lose, you don’t always win,” he said.

He may win or lose, but members of the Home Defenders League (HDL), a 2,500-strong homeowners group in California that is fighting foreclosures, are determined to make scammers pay.

“We had him on the run. It’s an action of guilt,” said HDL member Peggy Mears. “That’s why he ran. We’re going to make all of them run.”

The league, a part of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, has organized similar showdowns with individuals and companies that they say defrauded homeowners, many of whom have joined the statewide network. As a result of the group’s actions, several homeowners have recouped their money – a feat that representatives with the district attorney’s offices in Los Angeles and Alameda counties say is rare to achieve.

The homeowners welcomed the California attorney general’s announcement earlier this week of a mortgage fraud “strike force” to go after mortgage scammers.

Mears says homeowners need to be “vigilant,” and file complaints with appropriate local and state agencies. She says information from the public can help prosecute mortgage scammers. The group planned to file a complaint against Lim with the state attorney general's office.